Friday, March 22, 2013

Seriously forked up

[disclaimer] I'm an opinionated prick. I try to be pretty up-front about this fact. The site is "Not A (muther-fucking) Discussion dot Com" for a reason. [/disclaimer].

I should probably leave well enough alone. My "thing" is bitching and moaning about technology and trying, where I can, to make things a little better here and there. This post has absolutely nothing to do with that.

If you haven't heard about 'donglegate' from PyCon '13, check out the list of relevant links +wesley chun put together. I happened to be in the room when the comments were made. Luckily I didn't hear them. Also, over the course of the conference I met both +Adria Richards, who I genuinely like, and Mr-Hank, with whom I had a pleasant exchange.

People seem to want to pick sides here. Label one a victim the other a villain and the narrative writes itself. Doesn't matter who you put where, a compelling tale could be derived irrespective of who is placed into what role. I'm heartened by the show of support for Mr-Hank and his family and greatly disturbed by the name calling and threats leveled at Adria.

There are so many issues with what's transpired over the past few days that I don't know where to begin. One part of the problem is that we, in the US, have cultivated both a culture of victimhood and blind privilege. In the end we all lost. This is not a new realization, Amanda Blum pointed out as much so I'll try to avoid retreading that ground.

Daemon's advocate

If we accept Ms. Richard's account of the events as gospel then we should probably think critically about the conclusions she draws and the assertions the makes. 

The title of her blog entry is: Forking and Dongle Jokes Don't Belong At Tech Conferences. I'm not sure that's quite right. While at the conference I heard several jokes about sex and sexuality from men and women alike. It's an adult subject and we were (mostly) adults (legally anyway). There was a reference to being "more accommodating" than others from a member of one of the outreach/diversity groups there. A leer and some giggling followed. That particular statement happened to come from a female. Of course it would have been different if it had come from a guy (because of male privilege). We don't have gender parity and anyone who believes that we do is simply deluding themselves, but that's not my point. When you get adults together they tend to make adult jokes. Some are in poor taste. Hell, I sent a tweet that had the portmanteau: geekgasm. Either Mr. Chun or Mr. Martelli could have chosen to be offended and publicly shamed me, but they did not.

Based on what I've read/heard about the situation, Mr-Hank's statements could be best described as insensitive. If we assume that they were instead malicious there is still the question of how adults respond in the face of that which offends. It's terribly easy to be offended these days. How you handle the situation is what matters.

The Jimmy Choos on the other foot

A pretty easy and obvious question (given the above) is: Why didn't she just confront the guy(s) and say "That's not cool. Knock it off."?

I can't speak for Adria. I don't presume to know what she's thinking or what her motives are. I can, however, tell you from experience that many people of color are sensitized to being seen as "complaining victims". Being a "black female" it may well have been the case that direct confrontation was perceived as a less fruitful course of action. Maybe her concerns would have been discounted and shrugged off; maybe she would have been seen as a bitch who can't take a forking joke; maybe she would have gotten an immediate apology and then an eye roll and finger snap behind her back with spiteful resumption of the perceived slight. We don't know. Further we don't know whether she had concerns along those lines because her decision not to confront the offenders was not discussed in her post.

It's easy for an outsider to say, she should have done XY or Z. I can tell you first hand that confronting someone about (perceived) slights or inappropriate behavior is not always as straight forward as you may think. There was a speaker on stage and it was not likely that she could have made her point to them without consequently making a scene. How do you stop assholes from acting like assholes without being an asshole yourself? That's rhetorical and allegorical. I'm neither seeking an answer nor calling anyone involved an asshole.

The real fork wads here

I don't care who you think is right or wrong  between Adria and Mr-Hank. In my opinion they both did things that any one of us could have done and I won't go casting stones at people for being…uhmm… people.

Companies on the other hand are a different matter and both SendGrid and PlayHaven have landed on my sheet list (inside joke between myself, Adria and like 3 other people). 

PlayHaven used slimy PR double speak in their justification for terminating one of their employees. They took the opportunity to highlight that they are "dedicated to gender equality" as if the statements, allegedly made were in someway intended to be necessarily sexist or oppressive. With one stroke they managed to paint their (former) team member with the color of misogyny. Again, it's one thing to be insensitive and another thing entirely to be malicious. Congratulations PlayHaven on being reactive and behaving poorly in the face of adversity. 

SendGrid announced publicly that they terminated Adria. At least PlayHaven left the guys actual name out of their blog post. It would appear that they did as much to distance themselves from her and (hopefully) avoid suffering the ire of those responsible for DDoS them earlier this week. Basically it looks like they've given in to uncivil activism and it's hard to respect them after that.

In closing

This was tragic. There's plenty of blame to go around and it doesn't look like the worst of the storm has yet passed. Some want to protract this out to get to the "real issue". Others (like myself) want it to be over and done with so that we can minimize the adverse affects on the community as a whole. I hope that this one incident doesn't have any lasting affect on conferences of this type but I doubt that I'm fortunate enough for that to be the case. I wish Adria the best and hope that Mr-Hank can put this whole unfortunate mess behind himself.

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